Xenia Sports – London
Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti paid tribute to Napoli’s idol and his good friend after Diego Maradona was buried in a private ceremony in Argentina.
Ancelotti played against the 1986 World Cup-winning captain, who died on Wednesday aged 60, during their time in Serie A and later went on to manage the Partenopei.
Napoli had taken to the field wearing ‘Maradona 10’ shirts ahead of their Europa League win over HNK Rijeka on Thursday night.
Ancelotti reflected on the special place ‘good guy’ Maradona will always hold in the hearts of Napoli supporters, the diminutive playmaker having led them to a first domestic championship in 1987 and again in 1990.
“I have a good memory of him. He was my opponent and he became my friend after that,” the 61-year-old said.
“He was a really good guy and I always liked him as a person. It is a big loss for football, but the memory is still there.
“He was fantastic player and he helped football around the world with his quality, his skills and his ability.
Ancelotti, who moved to AC Milan from Roma in 1987, recalled: “At the time he was the best player and the best player I played against, really difficult to stop, unbelievable quality.
“For sure I am going to keep a really fantastic memory of him all the time.
“When he was in Napoli they became a fantastic opponent and they won titles with him.
“I tried to stop him with strong contact, but he never complained and after that we became good friends.
“Maradona is an idol for Napoli, he is always respected.
“For the city he was not only a footballer, but was great example to show everywhere.”
Maradona, regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, died of a heart attack in a house outside Buenos Aires where he had been recovering from a brain operation.
The former Argentina captain, who inspired his country to 1986 World Cup glory in Mexico, was buried in a private ceremony at Jardin Bella Vista cemetery on Thursday, which was attended by only two dozen people.
Tens of thousands of weeping fans had filed past his coffin while it was laid out at the Argentinian presidential mansion, to mark the start of a three-day period of national mourning.
When the funeral car left under under heavy security, crowds, some draped in the national flag, gathered along the roadside. Many tried to touch the vehicle whenever it was stopped by traffic.
On Friday afternoon, world governing body FIFA requested its 211 member associations to “call upon all competition organisers to hold a minute of silence at every football match this coming weekend, or at the next possible occasion, to honour one of the greatest football icons of all time”.
Maradona, though, will also be a hugely controversial figure in England after his ‘Hand of God’ goal helped knock Bobby Robson’s side out of the 1986 World Cup at the quarter-final stage.
Chelsea manager and former England midfielder Frank Lampard, though, maintains Maradona’s genius should not be overshadowed by the incident at the Azteca Stadium.
“Diego Maradona was my idol growing up, he was the player on the world stage that made me fall in love with the game,” Lampard, 42, said. “I remember vividly moments at World Cups of his in my early years.
“I wasn’t even that put out by the Hand of God, I was as an England fan, but then his individual brilliance overcame that for me as I grew up.
“He is a footballing god, and it is very sad that he’s no longer with us.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remembered being in awe of Maradona’s talent, labeling the Argentina number 10 as “the best player that I have seen live”.
“I was fortunate enough to see him play for Argentina against Norway in Oslo, they (Argentina) lost 1-0 before the (1986) World Cup and I remember a Norwegian lad, Kjetil Osvold, nutmegging him – fantastic,” said Solskjaer, 47.
“After the game, we stood outside the ground and I touched his shoulder as he walked past.
“Since then I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him at Old Trafford. He was a guy with unbelievable talent on the pitch and a smile always when you see him.
“It was a sad day – for me he will always be the best that ever played football.”
David Moyes recalled how he was left somewhat star-struck when Maradona visited a Manchester United training camp in Dubai.
The West Ham boss, who was in charge at Old Trafford from May 2013 to April 2014, said: “Diego came to watch the training and meet the players.
“I have got to say it’s one of the first times where I really thought ‘I would really like to get a picture with this guy’ because it was really important for me.
“My staff and me were thrilled to see him, and I was really pleased to meet him, it was a great experience.”